Why is Docracy not doing better in 2016?

Representation in the Crisis?

Wolfgang Merkel

To person

is Professor of Comparative Political Science at the Humboldt University of Berlin and Director of the Department "Democracy and Democratization" at the Social Science Research Center Berlin (WZB). [email protected]

The situation seems clear to the experts from Freedom House, many media outlets, but also less hasty time diagnosers: Democracy is on the decline, we are currently experiencing a "democratic rollback", [1] the autocrats are coming back. [2] As if the frequently voiced refrain were empirical evidence enough, we hear: Lech Kaczyński in Poland, Viktor Orbán in Hungary, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey, Aljaksandr Lukashenka in Belarus, and of course Vladimir Putin, always Putin. As if this variety of the cited evidence is not enough, we read on: Marine Le Pen in France, Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, the FPÖ in Austria, the SVP in Switzerland, "The Finns" (formerly "True Finns") in Scandinavia , the crisis in Brazil, the drifting away of Venezuela and - last but not least - Donald Trump in the US. Not that there is anything wrong with such alarmist lists. It is wrong to string together and mix clearly different phenomena and classify them into a global phenomenon: the crisis of democracy.

An impartial look at the approximately 200 countries in the world shows, however, that other observers either do not state the loss of democracy at all, or that democracy indices such as the World Bank's Worldwide Governance Indicators and the Bertelsmann Transformation Index even show slight democratic improvements. Despite verbalization to the contrary, the minimal deterioration in Freedom House is statistically completely insignificant. [5] It is true that the third wave of democratization [6] ended in the mid-1990s and ended in trendless stagnation. [7] The claim of a worldwide retreat of democracy is anecdotal and alarmistic; it cannot be supported systematically or empirically.

Other observations are to be taken more seriously and seriously: They attest the mature democracies a persistent malaise or even an existential crisis in a phase in which since the mid-1970s the electoral democracies [8] across all continents in a historically unique wave have spread. The crisis discourse has not left us since the 1970s and the crisis papers by Claus Offe (1972), James O'Connor (1973), Jürgen Habermas (1973) and Michel Crozier, Samuel P. Huntington and Joji Watanuki (1975). [ 9] Rather, the number of writings on the crisis of democracy reached a peak again after 2000. Colin Crouch (2004), Jacques Rancière (2002) and Sheldon Wolin (2008) wrote about post-democracy, Bernard Manin (1997) about spectator and Wolfgang Streeck (2013) about facade democracy; Merkel (2004) and colleagues (2003; 2006) conceived the type of "defective democracy"; Danny Michelsen and Franz Walter (2013) criticized the "apolitical" and Ingolfur Blühdorn (2013) the "simulative" democracy. Armin Schäfer convincingly analyzed the "loss of political equality" (2015), while Martin Sebaldt (2015) attested pathological traits to contemporary democracies. [10]

All of these writings provide important insights into the mature democracies of the OECD world. In some of these analyzes, however, it seems problematic to me that they draw conclusions from partial insights into systemic crises of democracy. Positive developments were - often deliberately - ignored. The picture emerged of a simultaneous downward trend in democracies, which has blocked the view of the non-simultaneity of democratic developments. The question of whether the crisis phenomena are evolutionary challenges for democracies as dynamic systems, or whether the democracies are simply changing, was just as little considered as the question of whether the respective normative frames of reference are excessive.

In the following, more light should be brought into those darkened areas in particular. In the next section, the term and the semantics of the crisis will be discussed in more detail. Then it is examined to what extent the underlying concept of crisis does not anticipate the judgment "crisis" or "no crisis". Who actually defines whether the challenges of democracy turn into its crisis? Is it "the people" (demos), is it the experts in democracy research? Where can we see negative and where positive developments in contemporary mature democracies? Can these compensate for one another? What can be said about the future of democracy? [11]

Challenges or Crisis?

Democracies are dynamic systems. They are constituted by institutions, procedures, organizations and live from the participation of the citizens. All components of these systems are interdependent and change over time. These changes are triggered by incentive structures and problem requirements of the external environment or by interest-based change strategies of relevant economic, social and political actors within democracy. The pace and scope of the adjustment processes are essentially determined by the relevant actors. Governments and parties play the main roles, parliaments, the judiciary and civil society play the secondary roles. If the institutions and procedures of the democratic state do not adapt to the functional requirements of their environment, they threaten to become dysfunctional. The performance of the government and of the entire democratic system declines and with it the subjective belief in legitimacy of the demos, which is partly nourished by the output and outcome of democratic decisions.

But the evolution of democratic institutions and processes does not only follow a functional incentive to maintain the efficiency of a democratic system. Internally, too, social values, priorities and worldviews are changing and challenging the adaptability of democratic systems. The democratic capability of the participation and decision-making processes is measured above all by the extent to which they perceive these socio-cultural changes, allow them politically and test them for their democratic suitability. The increased sensitivity towards equality issues of the sexes, ethnic groups and sexual preferences since the 1960s and 1970s show this adaptability in most of the advanced democracies of the OECD world. External and internal challenges of democracy not only test the adaptability of democratic systems, but are a necessary, albeit not sufficient, condition for the necessary further development of democracy in a rapidly changing (environmental) world.

Challenges to democracy are to be distinguished from the causes of crises. External challenges such as the neoliberal globalization of the financial markets, the supranationalization of political decisions, the growing socio-economic inequality or internal challenges such as the decline of the popular parties and the loss of power in parliaments only become manifestations of crisis if the political system does not develop functional and normative equivalents that correspond to those that have arisen Compensating for dysfunctionalities and normative deficits.